Membership, Exclusivity and Accountability- The Airbnb Dilemma
Amid the recent stories and articles published regarding the Airbnb turmoil, more commonly referred to as #ransackgate, I thought it prudent to write to our members and followers and let them know how our business model was developed and how our membership program works. When I first envisioned what is now VT-CLUB, the concept was a homeowner listing site that acted like a marketplace for vacation homes. I had never heard of Airbnb, but quickly learned of their growing business during my due diligence into the home rental market. Although I never had any intention of offering people’s couches and spare bedrooms to would be travelers, I did see the merit in this type of accommodations for the couch surfers of the world. As I knew our market would be more luxury oriented I wasn’t particularly concerned about these lower-end accommodations, but was encouraged to see that Airbnb had many higher end “whole homes” offered on their site as well. Although I was somewhat dismayed that my “original” concept was not the first to market, the early success of Airbnb at least validated the basic components of the model.
As I continued my due diligence and began speaking to would be homeowners about listing their homes I came across the same concerns across the board. Owners of luxury homes had valuable properties and valuable possessions and their common question to me was “who will be staying in my home?”. I quickly realized that vetting and accountability were paramount to making this an attractive option for homeowners. So began the change to launch VT as a private club. Unlike a private destination club that offered (begged) anyone with a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a membership, we would offer our memberships for free. The difference? Exclusivity. Not exclusivity based on net worth, but based on trust. Our Members began as my personal friends and those who own homes that we accept in the club. Invitations to join can only be given by our Charter Members. Charter Memberships are given to our Homeowners so that they can invite their friends to travel throughout our portfolio. The basic concept was to answer the question of “who will be staying in my home?”. The answer? Only people other members would want staying in their home. This concept of social vetting is the cornerstone of the growth of VT and provides us not only with a personalized vetting process of our members, but also accountability. Only members can travel in our portfolio and we know who invites every member.
As our portfolio of homes and our membership continue to grow we will undoubtedly offer a greater variety of accommodations at varying price points. As we all know the cost of a vacation is something that can certainly limit the renter pool, but it’s not necessarily a guarantee that your home or hotel won’t be abused (cough..Charlie Sheen). And who is to say that price discrimination is the best way to protect yourself? That’s typically been the only way to manage this dilemma until VT. If and when VT were to decide to offer more value oriented accommodations that would open up the pool of travelers, I feel confident that the personal relationships between VT and its Charter Members and Charter Members and their personal friends will be the type of validated personal knowledge necessary to do so with success. VT-Club will continue to provide the social structure based on validated trust and accountability that is necessary to accommodate growth without ushering in the anonymity that seems to have provided a suitable arena for criminal behavior.
Does this mean that Airbnb should have adopted a similar membership program? Not necessarily, but without personal knowledge of users and with accommodations as low as $10 per night, I don’t think you can ever properly answer the fundamental question of “Who will be staying in my home?”.